Teams aim to set up 2020 election polling sites

Voters cast their ballots for Early Voting at the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office in Norwalk, California on November 5, 2018.

Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

NBA teams will work to set up 2020 election voting sites in arenas as part of commitments made to end a player strike over racial injustice, the league announced Friday. 

In a statement, National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said that in cities where franchises own venues, they will work with local officials to convert them into polling places “to allow for a safe in-person voting option for communities vulnerable” to the coronavirus pandemic. If deadlines to set up new voting locations have passed, teams will instead push to use the arenas for voter registration and ballot receiving boards. 

Several NBA teams have already agreed or offered to make facilities into polling places for November’s election during a player-led drive to increase voter turnout amid a reckoning over systemic racism against Black Americans. They include the Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks.

Many of those teams have spacious arenas in swing states that will help to determine the outcome of the presidential election this year. Cities such as Atlanta and Milwaukee saw long lines for in-person voting in primary elections this year, particularly in Black communities, where the pandemic has hit hardest. 

Teams would normally be playing games in their home arenas around Election Day, Nov. 3. But the pandemic delayed both the 2020 playoffs and the start of the league’s 2020-2021 season.

The Bucks led an NBA-wide play stoppage Wednesday. They did not take the floor for a playoff game against the Orlando Magic as they protested the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Many players in the predominantly Black NBA worried the league’s restart in Orlando late last month would distract from their efforts to combat racial inequities in the U.S. following the police killings of Black Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor earlier this year. The playoff halt this week, part of wider work stoppages in the WNBA, MLB and NHL, yielded a broader commitment to racial justice initiatives. 

Along with the effort to set up polling places, the NBA will set up a social justice coalition made up of players, coaches and governors, Roberts and Silver said. The group will focus on “increasing access to voting, promoting civic engagement, and advocating for meaningful police and criminal justice reform.”

The league will also create ads designed to increase civic engagement to run during playoff games. 

“We look forward to the resumption of the playoffs and continuing to work together — in Orlando and in all NBA team markets — to push for meaningful and sustainable change,” Roberts and Silver said. 

The NBA will restart playoff games on Saturday. 

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